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Original instead of replica!

2024.03.20. 08:34 Doki

It is a well-known fact to our readers that our Society cooperates with the RMS TITANIC Hungarian Research Group in researching the history of giant ocean-going passenger ships and in its spectacular representation for those interested. Approaching the 112th TITANIC week - while the announcement by Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, who is resuming the construction of a replica of the ill-fated British ocean liner, is generating moderate interest in the world for the time being - we share with our readers the call of the founder of the research group, Sándor Csaba Kaszonyi, published in the form of an open letter, which directs the attention to the ocean liner s.s. UNITED STATES, waiting for renovation to evade the sad end, and to the fact that this ship deserves a better fate - and, unlike all copies, is still original - the very last herald of the golden age of ocean travel, to which the TITANIC belongs.

Approaching the 112th anniversary of the TITANIC tragedy, it may not be entirely uninteresting at first glance that on Wednesday, March 13, 2024, the Australian mining mogul Clive Palmer once again presented to the public his ambitious plan, announced once in 2006, for construction of a replica of the British ocean liner that sank in tragic circumstances in 1912. While this news alone would hardly be important enough, since it can only be a copy in the first place, and moreover, it can only be a non-authentic copy - because the TITANIC II, as an operating ocean liner, in view of the standards that have changed significantly since 1912, cannot be built like the original, only with significantly different external and internal appearance from the original at the cost of forced compromises -, moreover, the project has already failed once, when China, which was selected for construction (which until then had only gained experience in building large cargo ships and, more recently, certain warships, instead of the construction of such complex structures like ocean liners) finally lost its interest in the projectand decided in October 2013 to build their own TITANIC replica in a theme park in the landlocked Sichuan province. Moreover, the Clive Palmer TITANIC II. project (due to the pious aspects related to the TITANIC tragedy) was accompanied by criticism from the beginning, for example, a representative of the Cunard Line, which merged with White Star Line (which built the original TITANIC) in 1934 stated that "had always been very mindful and very respectful of such a tragic event and don't think that building a replica or a 'II' would be appropriate".

At the same time, Clive Palmer's statement reveals why he is so determined, what motivates him so strongly. And these are two circumstances: on the one hand, as he put it, he prefers to do something more fun than "it is to sit at home and count money" and that he have "enough money to build the Titanic 10 times over". In light of this, the question naturally arises: Is building a copy (and a necessarily anachronistic copy at that) really the worthy and great act that a person can do in order to gain a respect and reputation? While, instead of building replica fraught with compromises, an undeniably original ocean liner - the last of its kind - is waiting to be rescued today! 

 Profile of the s.s. UNITED STATES made by Dr. Tamás Balogh (Sorce: Encyclopedia of Ocean Liners).

Yes. The s.s. UNITED STATES is awaiting renovation. András Veit, member of the RMS TITANIC Hungarian Research Group summarized its importance as follows:

1) New materials, large size: The UNITED STATES is the largest American passenger ship ever built; With its length of 302 meters, it was not far behind the largest ones in the world at the time, but thanks to the large amount of aluminum used in its construction (which was very expensive and difficult to install at the time), it weighed many thousands of tons less, approx. it weighed two-thirds as much as the record holders of the time. However, weight reduction played a very important role, as the UNITED STATES was intended to be the fastest ship in the world at the time; practically everything was subordinated to this purpose. 

2) Unprecedented performance: Its four ultra-high-pressure, high-speed Westinghouse steam turbines were able to deliver a total of 240,000 horsepower to the four 5.5-meter-diameter bronze propellers - neither before have such high-performance conventional (non-nuclear) engines been built into ships in the world; its performance was only slightly surpassed by the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers that appeared later.

3) Unique speed: Thanks to the extremely powerful machinery and the relatively light structure, the UNITED STATES was able to reach unprecedented speeds. Its cruising speed of 35 knots (65 km/h) was initially higher than any previous one, and on the trials it was possible to reach almost 39 knots (72 km/h) with the 50,000-tonne giant. Since the characteristics of the ship were in many respects secret, one can also come across legends of a maximum speed of over 40 knots. It is particularly interesting that the ship could even go astern at a speed of 20 knots (37 km/h) and could take on enough fuel to maintain a range of 20,000 km at a speed of 35 knots, i.e. it could travel non-stop for two weeks at this speed (apart from it, only nuclear-powered ships are capable of this), so it could practically reach all ports in the world (suitable for deep-sea moorings) with a single bunkering (there were no two ports on Earth that it could not sail between in two weeks). 

4) Huge consumption: Moving such a large hull at such a high speed was associated with huge consumption. Although the consumption data was classified for strategic reasons, according to the information available on the relevant forums, the ship burned 1600-1700 tons of oil per day at the maximum speed of 38-39 knots (ie 21 liters per second!); this is also more than any other ship of similar value - however, there were few examples of her traveling at such a speed. By the way, the record for the crossing of the UNITED STATES in the western direction is still valid today, but in the eastern direction, in 1990, the high-speed catamaran HOVERSPEED GREAT BRITAIN took the first place from it.

From its decommissioning at the end of the 1960s to the present, the ship has been bought by various companies and tried to put it back into service or to save it for posterity, so far without success. In 1973, the owner company sold it to the United States Maritime Administration, which declared it unfit for military service at the end of the decade and auctioned it off. It was bought by Richard H. Hadley in 1980 (in order to cover the rapidly increasing mooring and maintenance costs, the entire original furniture was then auctioned, a significant part of which ended up in museums). In 1992, Edward Cantor, Fred Mayer and Julide Sadıkoğlu bought the ship to use it as an cruise ship in a time-share business model (in the framework of this, all the asbestos was extracted from the ship and the it's interior was stripped down to the bulkheads). In 2003, Norwegian Cruise Lines sought to refurbish the former speed-record giant steamer for Pacific Ocean cruises. It was purchased in 2011 by the SS United States Conservancy, which in 2009 succeeded in having the ship declared a protected industrial heritage placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2016, this organization entered into a purchase option agreement with Crystal Cruises, which wanted to convert the ocean liner into a cruise ship (they even enlisted the daughter of the designer, William Francis Gibbs, to promote their plans), but ultimately step back from the plan. Since 2018, the real estate developer RXR Realty has been trying to use the former giant steamer as a floating hotel, eventcenter and restaurant in the designated development area on the bank of the Hudson River in New York, respecting the rules of historic preservation, by retaining its original appearance, and by installing a museum dedicated to the ship's rich historical heritage on approx. 2,300 m2 area on board. 

Meanwhile, the ship's current berth in Philadelphia has increased its daily rent from $850 to $1,700. In light of this – and due to a legal dispute – the ship could lose its berth again. In the case that took place in January 2024 in the federal court in Philadelphia, a decision is expected in March-April.

In the light of the above, it is understandable that if the lovers of ocean liners around the world watch with concern those developers and investors who spare no time, energy and money to try to resurrect long sunken ocean liners from nothing, whether they will notice the last remaining representative of the great era of ocean liners and that, whether they will see the potential in it that, with the judicious use of capital and the experience at their disposal, can end the ordeal and steer this unique technical monument to safe harbor. 

One thing is certain: Whoever succeeds in this will have his name, along with that of this ship, written in golden letters in the pages of the great book of ocean navigation. 

With this in mind, we are sharing the open letter of Sándor Csaba Kaszonyi, recommending with the best of our hearts to everyone who agrees with its content to share and bring it to the attention of those who can improve the future of the UNITED STATES, contributing thereby to the survival of this significant element of, and unparalleled beauty in the world's shipping heritage.

Anyone who thinks they want to send the next message on their own behalf can download the version ready for copy-paste-send by clicking here.


Fig. 2.: Open letter written by Sándor Csaba Kaszonyi.

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